Bloom High School Then and Now

It is such a trip to walk through a completely obliterated building and see floor tiles still affixed to the concrete. Most people in Ford County, Kansas are well aware that the entrance to the Bloom High School is all that is left standing. I remember when it was taken down but I never really knew much about the town…other than it hadn’t been incorporated in ages.

Photographer Unknown

Bloom was established in 1887. It was never going to be a thriving metropolis but its position on the Rock Island Line ensured at least some commercial activity, including a weekly newspaper.

The Weekly Telegram, July 25, 1889

In April of 1889, the Bloom School had about 20 pupils attending class. In 1915, the two-room schoolhouse held 39 students. They weren’t breaking any records. By comparison, the fancy new school in Ford had 128 students at this time. There was a severe drought that just about wiped Bloom off the map. The newspaper died. The post office closed in 1891 and it was actually hauled away in 1894. I’m not sure when the City of Bloom became an unincorporated place but I imagine it was about that time.

Bloom experienced a renaissance in the early aughts, however, and a new post office opened in 1908. Soon, residents were getting their news from a different source.

The Bloom Booster, September 28, 1916

Bloom finally got some attention and organized support for a new school in October of 1916. Initial estimates came in at around $9,000 but we know how that goes.

The Dodge City Globe October 19, 1916

Less than two months later, the cost had risen to $15,000 and voters approved the bond issue.

Dodge City Daily Journal, December 10, 1916

The Bloom Booster, February 15, 1917

Contracts were awarded to Peters & Cobb of Ford for the building and W. F. Polly of Hutchinson for plumbing and heating. The idea was for the new school to be ready for the 1917-18 school year but it never works out that way. Bloom ran into the same problems as other Ford County districts with construction materials being slow to deliver. In July of 1917, the district thought the building might be ready about two weeks into the school year. Seven months later, with an epic typo:

The Bloom Booster, February 14, 1918

The new school had six classrooms, an auditorium with seating for 250, and a gymnasium “large enough for basket ball.” With enrollment at about 30 students, Bloom had high hopes for the future. Unfortunately, the school wasn’t yet accredited because it only offered three years rather than the four required by the state. Parents were unsure whether sending their kids to Bloom would cause their work to go uncredited so the district was under extreme pressure to get that fourth year offered. Then they had an outbreak of influenza in December of 1918.

Bloom peaked in the early 1930s, as many Kansas communities did during the Dust Bowl.

The Spearville News, February 27, 1930

Bloom didn’t have a football team (at least in 1932) so their athletes focused on “base ball” and “basket ball.” The Ford basketball team was actually taking Bloom seriously, which is hilarious…except Bloom marched onto Ford’s home court and beat them 17-12.

The Ford Progress, January 6, 1933

I feel like “wholesale slaughter” might have been a touch hyperbolic but sports reporters are sports reporters.

The Ford Progress, January 13, 1933

Speaking of the Dust Bowl:

The Catholic Advance, September 18, 1937

If you ever want something to be outraged about, peruse employment ads prior to the Civil Rights Act. It’s an HR Manager’s worst nightmare. These ads are fine but holy crap the others are awful.

The Wichita Eagle, February 10, 1956
The Evening Eagle, September 10, 1956

Somewhere along the way, Bloom formed an eight-man football team. That may have been a mistake.

Garden City Telegram, September 16, 1960

The Bloom High School Class of ’64 consisted of eight graduates so I think it was clear the lights would soon be out forever.

The Hays Daily News, May 12, 1964

Bloom’s school district merged with Minneola in 1964 and that was the end of the Bloom Badgers.

Garden City Telegram, January 12, 1965

I really want to know more about these reunions. Are they still a thing? Where are they held? The Bloom Alumni Association was still active in 1996 but that was the last mention I was able to find.

The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, April 29, 1984
The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, October 21, 1984

The Bloom Post Office closed for the last time in March of 1992. I think the Co-op may be the only business left in the community, unless someone has a home-based business. The Rock Island depot is still standing and is a private residence. The Lighthouse Baptist Church still has a presence but I’m unsure if they’re still using the building they put up inside the footprint of the old gymnasium. Seriously. The 2020 Federal Census listed 110 people in all of Bloom Township.

I remember reading about the upcoming demolition of Bloom High School and thinking at the time I should go down there and take some photos. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Not only can I not remember when it happened, I can’t remember where I read it. Was it in the Globe? The Banner? Where was I sitting when I read it? No clue! All I know is the article mentioned a decision to leave the entry standing, which was 100% the right call. I really, really love that it’s still there.

The school was definitely demolished prior to June of 2008 because those are the earliest Google Street View images available online and it was already gone.

Searching Globe online archives is borderline impossible bit I did find this story about the gymnasium roof blowing off in November of 2006. Clicking on the story won’t get you anywhere but the photo clearly shows the school buildings were already down. Speaking of the gym, the Lighthouse Baptist Church tried their best to keep the structure intact. They replaced half the roof and most of the flooring back in 2002. It must have been a major gut punch to then have all that work destroyed within four years.

Here’s how the school looks now:

Did the record skip when you compared the old newspaper photo to those I just took? Yeah, same here. That’s definitely not the same entrance from 1918. Everything about it looks much more modern. So what the heck? Sam at the Kansas Heritage Center sent me this photo showing the gymnasium that was added on the north side of the school during the Great Depression. It’s clear that the original school building faced west and the entrance left standing that faces Highway 54 was from a later addition.

Photo courtesy of Kansas Heritage Center

This satellite view from Google Maps clearly shows the church that was constructed inside the old gymnasium. I’m amazed the county issued a building permit for this but I verified that they sure did.

I’m glad I grabbed a few pics of the gymnasium and the debris pile from the original school building. If I had known at the time what all I was looking at, I would have taken more. Because it’s all just piled there where it fell, it’s very difficult to see which areas are safe to step. There are a lot of weeds potentially covering holes and brittle flooring materials…not to mention snakes.

I’ve reached out to the Minneola Public Library and the Minneola High School Library to see if they have any interesting materials but haven’t had any luck. I’ll update this post if I receive any additional information.

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Chicago Child Sold to Highest Bidder?

I saw this story from 1922 while doom scrolling Twitter and thought I would try something different.

Some of you know that I’m obsessed with genealogy and have solved all sorts of family mysteries through my research. It’s not just for funzies either…if you would like me to help with your family tree, that is a service I provide for a reasonable price and I’ll include a bit of info at the bottom of this post. So I thought it would be interesting to see how things turned out for young Marie Baker.

While this story made national news, most outlets failed to publish the full story. I assume the truth of the matter sells fewer papers. Mrs. Kenney was the sister of Marie’s mother so the child was not sold. She was released to her aunt and uncle once her father’s negotiated debt was settled. This additional paragraph was found in under five minutes.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, July 28, 1922

The caption below this photograph is outrageously irresponsible, inaccurate, and culturally insensitive. Everyone responsible for it appearing in print deserved to be fired.

Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, NY), July 31, 1922

What do we know? Marie’s aunt married John Kenney from Rentville, Minnesota and Marie’s last name was Baker. Compared to some people I’ve researched, that’s a lot. I read all of the other newspaper reports on the story and found Marie’s father’s name was also John.

Unfortunately, there is no “Rentville” in Minnesota. The correct name is Renville. Here’s the aunt and uncle with their biological children on the 1920 Federal Census.

John T Kenney and Pearl (Duncan) Kenney moved around quite a bit but I was able to track them to Illinois and later to California. Pearl’s obituary said daughter Mrs. Mary Hood lived in Lake City, Arkansas.

The San Bernardino Daily Sun, December 24, 1963

The discrepancy between Mary and Marie is something I’ve seen many times and it’s maddening. To make sure I had the correct family, I looked into Pearl’s family. The 1900 Federal Census lists Pearl with her parents and siblings in Illinois.

Jeannie (Myrtle Jeannette) Duncan was Mary/Marie’s biological mother. I had a little trouble finding information about the father, who was listed in the newspaper as John Baker. His birth name was Tjarko Janssen Bakker and it was anglicized when he immigrated to the US. This was probably a good idea since he served in the German military prior to World War I. He worked as a waiter in a hotel restaurant when he arrived in the US.

St. Louis Star, July 14, 1913

Jeannie died of pneumonia in December of 1918. John Baker is listed as the husband and that matches the initial newspaper article.

This was obviously during the horrible flu epidemic and Mary/Marie’s older sister, Hilka, died just a few days before their mother.

Mary/Marie did not live with her father right after her sister and mother died. Instead, she stayed with her grandmother, Joanna Duncan at least until 1920. On the 1920 Federal Census, her name was listed as Mary Bakker. Her last name was changed to Kenney after being “sold” to her aunt and uncle. She later moved to Arkansas, where she married Ernest E Hood in 1947.

Their son, Ernest E Hood, Jr. was born in October of 1949. Ernest Jr. moved to Georgia and unfortunately, died very young at the age of 41.

The Atlanta Constitution, October 18, 1991

The eldest Ernest died in 1996 and Mary/Marie died in November of 2001. I didn’t bother digging deeper on John Baker. This is just what I was able to compile in an afternoon. The point of this exercise was to show that newspapers have been tricking readers with sensational headlines since the invention of the printing press. If a story provokes an intense emotional reaction, it’s probably misleading you.

Mary Bakker Kenney Hood had a complicated life with a great deal of tragedy but she had a very large family that appeared to love her very much. As always, there was more to the story of the girl who was “sold to the highest bidder.”

As mentioned above, I do genealogical and other research for hire so if you would like my help working on a project, please send me a message letting me know what you need. I can do an entire family tree or I can look for a specific document. Depending on the project, I will quote an hourly or per item/person rate.

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Rumor Check: Errol Flynn Drunk on City Hall Steps

A reader recently asked, “Is the story true: When Errol Flynn was making the movie, Dodge City, that he was found drunk on the steps of City Hall one morning next to local, Robert Lee Christopher?”

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy questions like this! Okay, so I think my reader meant while Flynn was in Dodge for the premiere of Dodge City since the movie wasn’t made here. And I have definitely heard rumors about Flynn’s behavior while he was in town but I started out with zero verifiable facts.

You’re probably already aware that the movie premiere didn’t just fall into our laps. This was a really big ask and really, a genius move. The Kansas contingent reportedly went to Hollywood with a scroll signed by 10,000 Dodge City residents, which honestly seems impossible, but who am I to say.

The Wichita Eagle, February 15, 1939

No, wait…FIFTEEN thousand signatures! This is a tall tale, if I’ve ever seen one. But it worked!

The Wichita Eagle, February 21, 1939

Errol Flynn’s drinking habits were very well-known and it would have been super awkward if Warner Brothers couldn’t locate him for the big show.

The Wichita Eagle (Evening), March 10, 1939

What in the world? “She won him in a raffle.” Can you even imagine?

The Hutchinson News, March 23, 1939

Luckily for Miss Butterfield, Warner Brothers had a plan to ensure Flynn didn’t break their date.

San Francisco Examiner, March 23, 1939

After an unsuccessful search for a yearbook photo, I found this shot of the lucky winner.

Daily News, (Los Angeles) March 30, 1939

With a $2 million budget, this film was kind of a big deal, though I’ve seen estimates anywhere from $1 to $2 million and all points in between.

Hollywood Citizen-News, March 31, 1939
Hollywood Citizen-News, March 31, 1939

And then the worst happened. Miss Butterfield’s date was ruined by her stupid brother and his stupid measles.

The Fresno Bee, April 1, 1939
Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1939

The premiere was shown simultaneously at the Dodge, Crown, and Cozy theaters and even then, there was no way for everyone to get a seat. The movie was shown on repeat all through the night.

Dodge Theatre, Photographer Unknown
The Wichita Sunday Eagle, April 2, 1939
The Wichita Sunday Eagle, April 2, 1939

The turnout was absolutely massive. Crowd estimates ranged from 20,000 to 100,000 and I really don’t think anyone had a good grasp of just how many people flooded the streets. The Santa Fe Railroad set up a kind of pop-up city at the railyard for the cast, crew, and reporters to stay. But we know Errol Flynn stayed at the Lora-Locke Hotel so these accommodations didn’t appear to be for the headliners.

Photo by Frank Locke

There was a police force (probably Santa Fe Railroad Police) assigned to the railyard keep out the riff-raff. In addition to area police and sheriff departments helping out around town, Dodge even had National Guard assistance for crowd control.

The Wichita Eagle, April 3, 1939
The Wichita Eagle, April 3, 1939
Wilmington Press, (Wilmington, Calif.) April 15, 1939

Walter Winchell reported that the journalists who went on the junket consumed 114 cases of Scotch so the rumor about Flynn seemed totally plausible. I asked around and there are people in Dodge who have heard the story many times but it’s become sort of an urban legend. No one knows where the story originated. I haven’t read one article or gossip column that even hinted at Flynn partying outside of the Lora-Locke. One newspaper estimated 78 sets of press credentials were issued so I would think *someone* would have taken notice of Flynn’s whereabouts. All of the papers I’ve located reported most of the stars turned in around midnight because their train was leaving early the following morning. Now Dodge City definitely didn’t do that! The town didn’t sleep at all that night. Most everyone partied until dawn and then saw the special train off at the depot!

Having struck out thus far, I decided to search from another angle. Who was Robert Lee Christopher? The 1930 Federal Census had a Robert L Christopher at 805 Avenue H in Dodge City.

Initially, I had no idea if this was the same person but this is the only newspaper item I’ve been able to find. The age of this child doesn’t jive with the census record above so I had my doubts about whether they later lived in Haskell County.

The Hutchinson News, February 27, 1940

But then I found this 1940 Federal Census with Arlie and children in Satanta (also located in Haskell County) so it is the same family. Census takers made mistakes all the time with names, ages, places of birth, etc. Also, people lie.

I contacted the Dodge City Police Department and was told they do have records for Robert Lee Christopher but nothing during the time of the premiere. They also don’t have any records related to Errol Flynn and yes, that was the name his parents gave him at birth. The Ford County Sheriff Department didn’t have any records. Based on what I’ve learned so far, I’m calling this one busted. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, definitely let me know!

If you like what you see, be sure to subscribe (way at the bottom of the post on mobile devices) to receive an email each time a new post is published and share on social media. You can also buy me a cup of coffee using the donation form. Thanks for reading!

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